Aging often results in hair loss, along with a host of other causes, like stress, poor nutrition, and genetics. But if you’re left scratching your head about the cause of sudden, extreme hair loss, you could be dealing with an autoimmune disorder called Alopecia areata.

While technically alopecia causes hair to fall out in patches, those patches can begin to run together, making them much more noticeable. Some people even deal with their eyebrows, eyelashes, and other body hair falling out. In some cases, this can happen over the course of years, with hair growing back and then falling out again. In others, the initial hair loss is permanent. No matter how your alopecia presents, there are steps you can take to help lessen your symptoms and even encourage hair regrowth.

What Causes Alopecia?

Because Alopecia areata is an autoimmune disorder, it causes our body’s immune system to launch an attack at our hair follicles. In response, the body sends lymphocytes that penetrate into the hair bulb and disrupt the growth process.

Additionally, there seems to be a strong genetic factor that can help you predict your chances of developing the disorder.  There are also cases that develop concurrently with other autoimmune disorders like vitiligo, lupus, and rheumatoid arthritis.

While dermatologists can often determine if your hair loss is caused by alopecia based on the appearance of the balding areas, a biopsy is necessary for a definitive diagnosis.

Treatment Options

While there is no current cure for alopecia, your dermatologist may be able to help your symptoms, slow hair loss, and encourage new growth. Treatment options may include:

  • Steroid injections at the location of the hair loss, to help hair regrow. This treatment does not prevent future loss.
  • Topical treatments, such as steroid creams, that can reduce the amount of inflammation in the hair follicles and allow new hair to grow.
  • Cortisone and oral immunosuppressants, which work to block the immune system’s response
  • Phototherapy and radiation treatment, in conjunction with oral medication

While some people see excellent results with treatment, others may see no improvement at all. Alopecia is hard to predict, so the best option is to speak with your dermatologist about their recommendations.